Thursday, August 26, 2004

Julia Child Conservatism Clarification

I received a few comments in reference to my Julia Child conservatism posting, most of them pissed off that they thought I was trying to claim that Ms. Child was a sister under the skin of Tom DeLay. It's a sign of the partisan times in which we live that such a thing would seem like a natural interpretation. Allow me to clarify.

What I was talking about in that post was conservatism as a temperament, not as an ideology. This also applies to the specific characteristics that I thought that Ms. Child embodied. It is a peculiar fact of our times that these temperamentally conservative habits of mind and character are embodied in a person who was (like me) probably a Democrat. The Tom Delay "populist" right-wingers have very little in common with the temperamentally conservative attitude that Ms. Child (RIP) and I share. I thought this point would have been clear, but apparently not--much of temperamental conservative is more compatible with (some of) the commitments of the center-left than it is of those who call themselves conservatives.

I think this also points to a more general political point. Modern "liberals" and Democrats are now, objectively, in the position of wanting to conserve things that they have created, such as the welfare state. The existence of institutionalized liberalism means, on the other side, that opponents of the modern state have to style themselves as "radicals," since they seek to fundamentally alter deeply embedded aspects of modern society. So in that sense, the classically conservative instincts and habits make more sense for those on the center-left than for the right. Unfortunately, lots of liberals haven't recognized this, and are still enthralled to the habits of radical chic. The truth is, defenders of the welfare state are the ones who need to be boring and remind people of the danger of radical change...they are the ones who should be picking up copies of Reflections on the Revolution in France and Rationalism in Politics. Come to think of it, Oakeshott had interesting things to say about cooking in the latter work...


Anonymous said...

I posted the original comment, and I do apologize for appearing cross about your post, which was a lovely tribute to Ms. Child. Again, however, in the context of a blog whose topic is identified as political science, interpreting 'conservatism' as a political term, rather than as a description of temperament, is hardly a "sign of the partisan times in which we live." To the extent that your point is that "Conservative" as a description of a political movement has less than nothing to do with the meaning of the word 'conservative' in normal English, or in historical political, usage, I couldn't agree with you more.

To continue to pick nits, Julia Child was not "probably a Democrat", she was, as I and a couple of other commenters have pointed out, in fact an active and outspoken Democrat. If you don't believe us, it's easy to check.

(Like another commenter to your previous post, I also came over from Mark Kleiman's blog, and am enjoying your site -- it's always good finding a thoughtful blog whose politics aren't in perfect alignment with mine.)


carla said...


Liberals are in the position of wanting to keep entrenched stuff...such as the welfare state? No offense...but you might want to get out of the 1970s time machine. That line went out with Pet Rocks and mood rings.

Liberals haven't been in charge in Washington since before Reagan took office. For the last four years, it's conservatives who've essentially been running the whole shebang (And really..they've been doing it since 1994...) Yet when one takes an objective look at what's going on with the begs the question...who really is entrenched here?

Our national debt is spiraled into the worst it's ever been. Liberals didn't get us into that mess, conservatives did. They're completely wed to tax cuts despite their spending being wildly out of control. These are not your parents' Republicans. We have been promised a booming economy based on the slashing of taxes tilted heavily toward the wealthy (and yes I've actually looked this I'm really hoping not to get the GOP TV spin that this isn't the case).

We've also placed ourselves into a completely untenable geopolitical situation. An unwinnable war/occupation in Iraq. A fundamental lack of investment in security here at home. Wishy-washy foreign policy with states that sponsor the real terrorism (not the pretend stuff from Iraq).

And there's no turning back from these policies, either. Bush refuses and Congress is too busy trying to preen their polling numbers to hold him accountable.

Who's entrenched again?

MWS said...

I too came over from the Mark Kleiman blog. I think you point about temperamental conservatism is excellent. I to am a democrat and was at one time more liberal than now. However, although I did not identify it as such, I was also temperamentally a conservative, opposing radical change and against attacking established institutions. I'm glad to know there are others out there like that. You are right; the movement "conservatives" really aren't conservative in temperament. Interestingly, many of the neoconservatives began as liberals or even radicals and it is apparent that that habit of of mind in seeking radical action has not changed. Whatever happened to good old cautious conservatives?